A neighbor of the couple accused this week of starving 4-year-old Randolph Thomas to death called Texas law enforcement officials in March to report a large bruise on the child's face.
A sheriff's deputy went to the travel trailer where Richard and Amber Dowen lived outside Riverside, Texas, on March 19 and reported that the bruise appeared to be several days old, Walker County Sheriff Clint McRae said.
"The officer did observe that the child appeared to be small for his age but appeared to be healthy," McRae said.
Investigators alerted Walker County Child Protective Services, which sent caseworkers to the trailer several times but never found the family there, McRae said.
Nearly 5 1/2 months later, Richard Dowen, a truck driver, was delivering freight in Durham when he flagged down an officer Wednesday morning to say his stepson was sick and needed to get to a hospital. The boy died the next morning at Duke Hospital.
Dr. John Butts, the state's chief medical examiner, said the child was 3 feet tall and weighed 19.5 pounds at his death -- seven pounds more than Durham police initially reported.
"Our exam confirms that this child was malnourished and dehydrated," Butts said. "At this point, there's no obvious indication of disease that might have led to this condition."
Butts said he did not know how long the child had been starved. Most 4-year-old boys weigh 35 to 45 pounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Richard Dowen, 32, and the boy's mother, Amber Dowen, 20, are being held in Durham County jail without bail. Each is charged with first-degree murder and felony child abuse.
Amber Dowen also is charged with malicious conduct by a prisoner after she allegedly spit at an officer taking her to jail. Richard Dowen is charged additionally with accessory after the fact because investigators think he allowed his wife to starve the boy.
Mitchell Garrell, the assistant district attorney assigned to the case, said prosecutors had not decided whether to seek the death penalty.
Richard Dowen is a trucker who owns his own cab. Since March 2001, he has hauled freight for New Prime Inc., a trucking company with pickup sites across the country. This week, he was delivering supplies from Eastman Kodak in Lawrenceville, Ga., to Qualex, a photo-finishing company in Durham.
Dowen had a permit from New Prime that allowed his wife and children to be passengers in the truck, said Steve Crawford, general counsel. No one had reported any concerns about the boy to the company, Crawford said.
It was unclear this week whether anybody who encountered the family on the road had reported concerns about the boy since Walker County deputies last saw the Dowens in March.
The couple also had their 15-month-old daughter with them when they flagged down a Durham County sheriff's deputy Wednesday morning. The girl appeared healthy, local law enforcement officers said, and was put in the custody of Durham County Social Services.
Randolph Thomas was born Jan. 8, 2001. He was breathing shallowly and was unresponsive to voice commands when his stepfather sought help on Miami Boulevard on Wednesday.
Relatives of the boy called the medical examiner's office from Texas on Friday to begin making funeral arrangements. Butts said he did not know when or where the service would be.
Staff writer Anne Blythe can be reached at 932-8741 or firstname.lastname@example.org.